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 Post subject: More on "magic"
PostPosted: Mon Sep 03, 2007 12:04 pm 
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My problem with the FARMS critique of EMMWV by Quinn is not that they find fault with his use of the term magic, which is problematic, but their use of this methodological critique with a vehemence and passion designed to sink what in the end is a groundbreaking work. Who before Quinn discussed the use of Christian folk ritual practices by Joseph Smith and his associates or offered so much evidence of it?

The apologetic response to EMMWV is, in my opinion, first shaped by the apologists' realization that many faithful LDS people would be very uneasy with Quinn's association of magic, which most of them probably saw as Satanic, and Joseph Smith, whom they view as a prophet of God. The way to discredit Quinn, without also discrediting themselves, is to appeal to the methodological problems inherent in the historical use of the word magic.

EMMWV poses the apologist a problem. If one does read it, it is difficult to deny that Smith engaged in these ritual activities. All one can do is redefine them in such a way that they no longer carry such problematic connotations. Hence the FARMS take on EMMWV. I also notice that in criticizing Quinn, the FARMS crowd did not much discuss the activities that Quinn described, nor did they propose a useful way of dealing with the evidence he provided.

It cannot be denied that magic is a loaded and problematic term. Ideally, it would be best to abandon it--not in the service of protecting religionists' beliefs about the world, but in order to free ritual practices from theologically molded discourse. I note that in my field, Classics, magic is still regularly used to describe activities similar to those that Quinn mentions in EMMWV. Why? Because it is useful inasmuch as people know almost right away what one is generally discussing. It may not be the best shorthand, but it still finds use as such.

I can't escape the feeling that there is something slightly disingenuous in all of the ire expressed about Quinn's use of the term magic. Is is born strictly from concern about Quinn's methodology or is it motivated by a desire to forestall the possibility that Mormons read the book for themselves? I tend to think that as much as apologists point to the former, the latter is the elephant in the room. In the hands of FARMS apologists, flawed works that do not line up with current Mormon views often become irredeemable works that are unworthy of perusal by the average reader. It is as though one should wait for the Correlated version of analysis of the Mormon past to catch up with the evidence, when such a wait could prove to be interminable.

The last word on Joseph Smith's ritual activities has yet to be written. Quinn's work is simply the first serious treatment of the subject. I await better works with more analysis of the data. I am simply grateful I am not still waiting for such a book, which would be the case if it were left up to the LDS Church.


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